Kevin Steinborn is getting ready for a big transition in his life.
After three decades with North Battleford Fire Department, Steinborn is retiring May 31 from his duties as deputy fire chief in charge of prevention.
“It’s been a rewarding career,” said Steinborn.
“Just by circumstances, and the stresses of the job and stuff like that, I figured that 30 years has been enough time and time to move on to some different things.”
But that doesn’t mean he will be spending much time at home. Steinborn will be working full time at Guy’s Furniture. There he will be helping his friend Larry Houle, who recently suffered a devastating accident that has limited his mobility.
That was one of the factors in his decision to move on from the fire hall, and Steinborn says he is looking for some other opportunities in addition to that. He notes that ever since the word got out of his retirement, there have been all sorts of offers coming in.
With his departure, Steinborn is also stepping aside as co-chair of the HUB program, the program in which various civic agencies come together to intervene in situations and create a safer community.
Steinborn has been fortunate to be able to spend his entire career in firefighting in his home community.
He began with the fire department in 1986. Back then he had initially thought about going into the RCMP, “but back in those days it was difficult to get in.”
“Somebody had said, ‘Why don’t you join the fire department?’” said Steinborn.
He started there part time and it wasn’t long before he found out how vital his role was to the community.
“I remember my very first call,” said Steinborn.
It was a motor vehicle accident, and after coming back to the hall there was a tray of nuts left behind with a thank you card. That made an impression on Steinborn.
“Somebody actually appreciates what we do. That was my career-changing time right there. I said, ‘I think the fire service is for me.’”
He eventually rose in the ranks from part time to full time, and ultimately moved from the floor of the fire hall to be deputy fire chief, which he’s been for 16 years.
There have been some memorable fires and some scary situations. One of the toughest assignments during his time with the department was the devastating Hunter’s Trailer and Marine fire on July 20, 1992. Steinborn had to head to the hospital after dealing with that blaze due to smoke inhalation.
That was the worst fire he’s dealt with, he said.
“That was a massive fire and scary situations for everybody.”
Another incident was a fire in an old war time home in which they had to go down to the basement. After fighting the fire “things started getting bad for us and we pulled out,” and as he ran up the stairs he ended up hitting his head and cracking a vertebrae. To this day he still has a bone chip floating around in his neck from that.
A particularly scary incident was when a gas line ruptured while crews were battling a house fire. Steinborn was blown out the back door and into the back yard.
“RCMP that were standing in the back were like ‘are you OK?' and I said, ‘yeah.’ It happens so fast. Through training now, you’ve got to look at smoke conditions and all conditions and train every day to be prepared for those types of calls. And, over the years, safety has become a big, big factor.”
He points to regulations that have been enacted, such as those that prevent firefighters from entering a burning house unless there are four people on the scene. Two are needed as a rescue team in case those firefighters going in end up in trouble and need rescued themselves.
“Everybody always says, everybody else is running out of the building but we’re the ones running into the building,” said Steinborn. “9/11 was a big impact and a lot of people finally realized the dangers that firefighters face. We signed up for it and love doing it.”
As for “daring rescues,” there have been too many. Steinborn recalled one of those times in which he had to go in a back door of a burning home to rescue people. By rule, two firefighters were required to enter a burning building. But his partner found a baby and took the baby out to safety. Steinborn said he would stay inside and look for more people.
“I carried on, broke all the rules I guess you might say, and found another victim.”
By that point the RCMP were shining flashlights inside to help them see.
Six people were saved that day.
Dealing with dangerous situations is all part of the job. Yet fighting the fire is the last resort for Steinborn in his job, and for all firefighters. They’d rather see the fires prevented to begin with.
“That’s what I tell people, I’d rather go out and talk to people, educate people all day long than have to go to a fire, because every fire’s different. And with today’s technology, they’re changing fast.”
There have been too many tragedies associated with fires. During his time with the department Steinborn noted 13 people have died because of house fires.
“Thirteen too many,” said Steinborn.
In his seminars in the community, Steinborn said he makes the point that of those 13 losses, “10 of them would still be here today if they had working smoke alarms in their house to protect them.”
The big killer in a house fire is not so much the fire itself but the smoke. Smoke can engulf an entire room within minutes, making it difficult to see the exits out of a building, but even more important is the danger from smoke inhalation.
“I always tell people don’t be scared of the fire, be scared of the smoke,” said Steinborn.
“We only have seconds to be able to get out and to be able to survive,” said Steinborn. “But there’s a lot of things that we can do on the preventative side.”
That means having working smoke alarms on every level of your home, including in your bedrooms.
“Most fires that happen, the fire can smolder and when everybody’s gone to bed, everybody’s sleeping and we lose our sense of smell when we go to sleep, so we need that device to wake us up if there’s a fire inside of our home.”
He notes codes are changing and have changed considerably.
“Smoke alarms were always important, but not like they are today,” he said.
“Even with the building code now, any new home that’s built has to have interconnected smoke alarms on every level, plus one in each one of the sleeping rooms. And it’s the way we build things and technology is changing. When I was a kid I had a wind-up alarm clock. Now you go into bedrooms and everything’s electronic and plugged-in — cellphones, iPads, computers and all kinds of stuff that could be a potential problem.”
His job has increasingly included an education and seminar component. That focus on prevention wasn’t always as great in the old days for firefighters.
“Our number of fires used to be way up there, and the number of prevention programs were low,” said Steinborn.
Now, because the many of programs out there to make people aware of fires, it’s reversed: the amount of prevention is up, and the fires have gone down, he said.
Education is now a big component of being a firefighter. Steinborn notes the department gets the message out, going to schools in the community.
They particularly focus on kindergarten to Grade 3, because “those are the kids that listen to us.”
They hear the message in school presentations or in visits to the fire hall. The students then go home and tell their parents what they heard about fires.
“We try to educate a lot of the kids at a young age so that they can promote it in their homes, and that way we have a much safer community.”
As well, Steinborn notes crews are out doing inspections to make sure facilities are safe, and free home inspections are offered.
That community engagement is all part of the job. It’s no longer only about putting out the fires for the firefighters.
“The days of sitting around the fire hall are long gone,” said Steinborn.
Another program Steinborn has been involved with is TAPP-C, which stands for The Arson Prevention Program for Children. He’s been a counsellor in that program for about 20 years and has dealt with 257 kids in the community who started fires.
He noted three year olds started two recent structural fires. Educating parents about the need to lock up lighters and keep matches out of the reach of children is a big deal.
Careless cooking is another problem and the number one leading cause of fires in the community, said Steinborn. Educating people on what to do about fires inside the kitchen is a big part of his message, but he notes juvenile fire starters are the second leading cause.
“Most of the time it’s curiosity,” said Steinborn. “They don’t mean to burn down their garage, they didn’t mean to start that big bush fire, grass fire, but it’s just through experimenting with fire and they don’t know what it is.”
It’s an emotional time for Steinborn, who has his wife and kids to thank for their support over the years in pursuing this line of work.
He will also miss his colleagues at the fire hall.
Steinborn said he will miss spreading the message of fire prevention and safety to the community, and knowing the impact that has had on people.
“That’s one of the biggest things I’m going to miss about this job, is working for and protecting and educating the citizens of North Battleford and the surrounding area as well.”